Literature Reviewed for Leaders: The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Literature Reviewed for Leaders: The 4 Disciplines of Execution

School leaders are busy people. Our days are full. The pressure is great. The rewards are even greater.
Professional reading does not always make it into our daily routines. Leaders who are serious about continual growth lament the fact that they cannot read enough of the best stuff out there.

I want to give you the skinny on the professional reading that I am doing so that you can 1) Identify top priority next-reads 2) Gain exposure to a wider selection of helpful texts and 3) Save time and money by passing on books that do not connect in the moment.

Here’s the ‘skinny’ on The Four Disciplines of Execution:

The 411: The Four Disciplines of Execution. Chris McChesney, Sean Cover, and Jim Huling, Free Press, New York, 2012.

My Tweets: Too many schools analyze performance data after the fact, when it’s too late to impact performance. There are better ways that virtually guarantees success.  #thosekidsareOURKIDS

A Leader’s Take: I want to see our school become both high performing and attractive to families and employees.  It’s important to pay attention to how successful organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, achieve their goals. I am now more convinced than ever to focus on fewer efforts that leverage greater gains. In this text, the authors show us how to do it. It begins with identifying a measurable goal that is inextricably tied to the organization’s mission. Then lead measures (actions your team must take to achieve the goal) need to be identified. Additionally, a compelling and visible scoreboard should be developed to engage all participants. Finally, regular “check-ins” should be scheduled and conducted to update the team’s progress. While this sounds easy enough, there is more than enough data to show that leaders like us are proficient at identifying goals. We fail, however, to identify data points predictive of success and regularly celebrate our team’s growth. In short, we fail to execute. If you are ready for a systematic approach to achieving your organizations wildly important goals, then this may be the framework you were missing.

One Important Take-Away:  Only one in seven employees is able to name even one of their organization’s most important goals. 15% could not name even one of the top three goals their leaders identified. This truth lies at the very center of the organizational stagnation too many of us see.

Your Next Move: Make reading this book one of your top personal goals before 2019. Then execute that goal.

It Gets: 5 out of 5 apples.

The Power of Tostada Tuesday

The Power of Tostada Tuesday

We’ve always known that sharing food is a clear avenue to connection. Some of the greatest leaders have used this method to connect people in deep ways. In high school, my head coach would arrange for the whole football team to share a ‘carb-loaded’ meal at one house the night before the big game. Jesus, a leader in his own right, purposefully dined with individuals from all walks of life, culminating his teaching in the last supper. I once had a boss, in the non-profit sector, who made it a point to host a portion of the staff meetings at local restaurants. He knew that these meals would feed our sense of purpose, in addition to our stomachs.

At our school this year, we are banking on Tostada Tuesdays.  For us, it’s pretty simple. In the preceding week, staff members sign up to bring one of their favorite tostada toppings. They scrawl that selection on the staff mailroom door. A few of our office staff members organize the spread, remind staff to join us, and “voila!”  This relatively brief meal, scheduled monthly, will yield far more than six foot foldable tables, stacked with homemade food.  We are creating hubs for staff connection.

As a leader, Tostada Tuesdays give me both permission and space to sit down with key team members for relational and light conversation. In an industry where complimentary meals and off-site adventures are non-existent, we need spaces for authentic connection. So that I can be completely present during this time, the meal is booked as an appointment on my schedule. Additionally, I work to ensure that sufficient supervision is in place. This way, I am pulled away only in cases of emergency.

When we share food, we are sharing a piece of ourselves.  Not only are we having a shared experience, we are given the opportunity to share a piece of ourselves. Sometimes, our team members bring dishes that reflect their familial and cultural traditions. They show up with masterpieces that were made with love in their home kitchens. We are given the chance to give, receive, share, and express gratitude. And these actions are the building blocks of a healthy team.

Literature Reviewed for Leaders: Micro Resilience

Literature Reviewed for Leaders: Micro Resilience

School leaders are busy people. Our days are full. The pressure is great. The rewards are even greater.
Professional reading does not always make it into our daily routines. Leaders who are serious about continual growth lament the fact that they cannot read enough of the best stuff out there.
I want to give you the skinny on the professional reading that I am doing so that you can 1) Identify top priority ‘next-reads’  2) gain exposure to a wider selection of helpful texts and 3) Save time and money by passing on books that do not connect in the moment.

Here’s the ‘skinny':

The 411: Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy. Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines, Center Street Publishing, New York, 2017.

My Tweet: To be the best leaders we can, we need strategies for interrupting our own fight/ flight/ freeze responses. #MicroResilience offers how-to’s that may transform your days at school. #thosekidsareOURKIDS @bonniestjohn

A Leader’s Take:  Our schools are multi-dimensional spaces with simultaneous demands on our presence and time.  This book does two things: 1) Convince you that multi-tasking is not the goal. We perform at high levels when our brains are dialed in on one thing and we are fully present. 2) Suggests concrete ways that you can refocus our brains, release stress, and build resilience. If you want win more daily battles with mental exhaustion and perform at higher levels, this text holds the keys!

One Take-Away:  I see this as a practical guide to trauma-informed leadership. Instead of being ruled by the primitive stress-response systems of our bodies, we have the ability to interrupt and reset our regulatory systems. “The good news is that we can rewire ourselves and essentially upgrade our human operating system to cope with the challenges we face” (90).

Your Next Move: Make the order. Dive in. Take on just one practice!

It Gets: 5 out of 5 apples.

When the Cable Guy Reminds You of Your Purpose

When the Cable Guy Reminds You of Your Purpose

As a first year teacher, I received a gargantuan assignment. Teach reading to 9th graders who are multiple grade-levels behind. Most were like 6 years below grade level (3rd grade readers). Because they were so behind, we had them in our classes for nearly half the school day. We taught them explicit reading strategies with high-interest text, and saw some fantastic growth.

Some of the students, though, were too beaten down by their own previous failures to try very hard. Several had such well developed avoidance tactics, that they rarely had to struggle with text. Some were just plain hard to deal with. A few, in my honest and deflated moments, I thought were virtually doomed. Without literacy skills or grit, I feared the world would eventually just swallow them up.

V topped that list. V did some crazy things in my classroom to avoid work. One day, I asked him to leave the classroom, but he refused. As I walked towards him, he would run. He even hopped a few rows to stay away and incite a game of chase. His classmates were thrilled, elated by his courage to buck structure and authority. For a moment, he was a star. He just laughed when I called security to come get him.

V appeared completely apathetic when it came to school work. And I wanted to get to the bottom of the “why.

Being an ambitious, driven, concerned young teacher, I drove to his home for an official home visit. Perhaps I would discover new ways to reach this struggling student of mine. What I discovered, though, was less help and more empathy. Here’s why: His grandmother lay in the one bedroom apartment, on a hospital bed, adjacent the living room window. She we hurting, even moaning, and clearly in her last days. V’s father was angry with his son but lacked the English skills to communicate real concerns or explanation for his sons behavior. In a Cambodian dialect I couldn’t make sense of, he screamed at Voungtha, shaming him in my presence. Voungtha’s smirk from class was a world away.

“Where would he do his homework even if he wanted to?” I thought.
“Please encourage V to try hard in my class,” I said.
“What will become of this kid?” I wondered.
“His future is dim.” I projected.

***********************************************
It’s official now: the world did not swallow V up.

In fact, when my DSL installation technician arrived at my doorstep, he looked strikingly familiar. Within moments, I placed him. And for the next half hour, I questioned and praised him.

He made it.
V lives down the block for me and supports a family, including two young kids. He works hard during the day and counts it a privilege to have a job. Many of his friends don’t. He finished school on time (somehow) after being kicked out of our high school in two separate years.
He beat the odds.

That visit was good for my soul.
It reminded me that a) Growth and maturation is a process, often over years and years. b) I am no savior. I couldn’t even keep him in class. c) Moments of grace like these, are a gift. I am savoring it even now.

Cafeteria Lunches with Kids Beat Comped Business Luncheons Every Single Day

Cafeteria Lunches with Kids Beat Comped Business Luncheons Every Single Day

Often administrators struggle with shifting our focus from the world of the kids, to the world of adults.  Instead of teaching lessons and walking lines, building readers and planning field trips, we find ourselves presiding over IEP meetings, planning professional development, meeting with parents, and interacting with district level staff.  In a shift, our new role is to impact student achievement through the adults on our campuses.

But we are in this profession because of our love for young people and our passion to see them succeed and grow.  How do we reconcile this internal tension?  

1. Embrace your new charge. Effective school leaders can and must work with and through adults on campus. This is our charge. Teams of effective teachers and staff members benefit from school leadership that articulates a vision, coaches their practice and resources their efforts.  As a response to reading Micro-Resilience (Bonnie St. John) this summer, I’ve crafted the following personal purpose statement: “To lead teams that deliver equitable outcomes for kids.” 

2. Schedule daily ‘kid time.’  It is honest and noble to acknowledge a need to know and impact students on a daily basis. It helps us ground our decisions and taps our deepest motivations. Given the demands of our roles, we are logistically unable to spend all of our time with children.  Instead, we should find at least one slice of the scheduled day, where quality interaction with students is both possible and rewarding. 

I started out the year challenging kids in games of four square and being present during lunches.  This filled a supervision need and got me outside of the classrooms/ office and with kids.  As the year went on, I found that eating lunch, at the lunch tables, with students, became my “jam.”

Eating lunch with students worked for a number of reasons.  Because I needed to eat anyways, it was and initial act of multi-tasking.  Second, because lunchtime is limited and dedicated time, I it was predictable for me.  Third, I noticed that it ‘hit the spot’ for me internally.  Suddenly, I was learning kid’s names, cutting up over knock knock jokes, and connecting with students in positive ways.  I’ll take cafeteria lunches with the kids at my school over comped business lunches out every single day!

School leaders who connect with students outside the classroom also turn traditional principal dynamics on their head. Students don’t have to associate interactions with the principal as punitive, directly following instances of poor behavior. They are not just seeing the school leader when they are “sent to the principal’s office. And when they are sent there, principals can lean leverage a bank of relational interactions helps necessary action be restorative and character building.

For each of us, the particular avenue for consistently connecting with kids will likely be different.  For me, eating lunch with students daily will keep me in leadership longer and in a state of laughter!

How do you stay connected with students and focused on work with adults?

Image by US Department of Agriculture via Flickr.
Leadership Lessons from a Date Gone Wrong

Leadership Lessons from a Date Gone Wrong

She asked a question that ended our date that night. While the question provided an opportunity for leadership growth and development, it functionally ended the night.

Date night is a big deal in my house.  The frequency of dates with my wife serves as a barometer for the health of our relationship.  It’s also a practice that we remain committed to so that distance does not grow. Arranging successful dates are also minor feats. Lining up free time, securing babysitters, and coming up with a novel, and romantic, can be magnanimous challenges.

My incisors were sinking their way into a piece of artisan pesto pizza; I never did make it through that bite.  

She asked, “Do families know that there isn’t school tomorrow?”

Instead of finishing the meal with a delectable dessert or a long walk on Ocean Beach, we headed up to the school.

You see, it was Sunday night.  And there wasn’t school the next day.  In fact, we were having the first school holiday of the year and we had not blasted a message to families, via email, paper flyer, website or call.  

I could just see scores of families lined up at the gate, only to be turned back home. Frustrated parents would be forced to call in sick from work.

Facing this grim possibility, I did what any other rookie principal would do.  I apologized to my wife.  I drove up to the school.  I searched the custodial space for a ladder and key to the marquee.  I turned the headlights of my car on, and I spelled out the following message, letter by painful  letter:

No School Monday

School Resumes 9/27

Then…first thing Monday, I articulated a procedure with staff, so that this would never happen again.  

Marquee

I learned a few things through this first year foible:

1. Learn to laugh at yourself. While I was not laughing while on top of that ladder, I continue to laugh about the incident today!
2. We all need time away from the work. Dates with spouses, backpacking trips with college buddies, and beach days with the family recharge us and make us better.  When our attention is divided, as it was in this instance, we are not getting true rest and restoration.
3. Systems need fine tuning. The operational systems at our schools need frequent analysis and tweeking, if they are to serve our communities well. Our strategy/ approach to communication has needed lots of tweeking to reach stakeholders.
4. Effective Leaders take ownership. I wrote about taking leadership here.  At the end of the day, the buck stops with us.
5. Leaders makes mistakes too. And that is okay!  How we respond to our mistakes is what makes us.

Image by Glenn Lascuna via Flickr.
Literature Reviewed for Leaders: English Language Learners at School

Literature Reviewed for Leaders: English Language Learners at School

The 411: English Language Learners at School, A Guide for Administrators. Else Hamayan and Rebecca Freeman Field, Caslon Publishing, Philadelphia, 2012.

My Tweet: 75 minds answer pressing questions schools face in teaching ELLs. “English Language Learners at School” has helped reshape our approach, working with emerging bilingual students. #thosekidsareOURKIDS

A Leader’s Take:  If you are leading a school serving a significant number of English language learners, this is a text you will want access too. While technical, it is driven by pressing questions we face in thinking through an instructional program that supports the predictable, yet unique needs of our growing ELL populations. Multiple expert voices provide input on pressing questions like: 1) How should we assess academic achievement of English language learners 2) What factors influence English language learners’ success at school? 3) What kinds of knowledge and skills to administrators need in order to implement an effective program for English language learners. I took the text on in chunks. I highlighted with intensity. Then I typed up the most powerful learnings and shared them with stakeholders. The research-based learnings have us thinking differently about supporting ELLs at our school.  While we are still working towards equitable outcomes for our ELLs, this reading, and the process we are going through, is a formative and critical process.

One Take-Away:  Perhaps the most profound takeaway from this book, for our learning community, is that we now see refer to our students as “emerging bilingual students” as opposed to “English language learners.”  The seismic shift recognizes students from a position of strength (gaining a SECOND language) rather than a position of deficit (still acquiring our language).  I believe that what we believe about students impacts everything. It is a powerful thing to recognize that our students are on the verge of gaining skills that will put them ahead of most people in life- and our students are only in elementary!  This is very different than (even subconsciously) thinking about students as underperforming language learners who might bring scores down. I choose the former! These experts and practitioners helped me get there.

Your Next Move: Write down the title. It well could be the primary resource help you design and articulate a plan for your site.

It Gets: 4 out of 5 apples.

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Area Implementation

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Area Implementation

It’s one thing to be a school leader and cognitively know that students on your campus would benefit from having break areas in their classrooms.  I shared a rationale for break areas in this post. It’s a whole other thing to help a learning community see the importance of them, dedicate a space in their rooms, teach a protocol to students, and facilitate appropriate break area usage.  That is second order change.  But these pointers should get your staff closer to reality where all students have tools to self regulate and return to learning, without leaving the instructional environment.

1. Know the purpose


A break area is a designated area in the classroom for students to go, where they can get space, remain in the classroom environment, practice self regulation, and return to learning. A break area is open to all students who demonstrate need.
A break area is not a punitive timeout consequence for children who misbehave in the classroom.
The Center for Responsive Schools explains the purpose of a “take a break”strategy is, “a positive, respectful, and supportive teaching strategy used to help a child who is just beginning to lose self-control to regain it so they can do their best learning. An equally important goal of Responsive Classroom time-out is to allow the group’s work to continue when a student is misbehaving or upset. Giving that child some space from the scene of action where they can regroup while still seeing and hearing what the class is doing accomplishes both of these goals.” That is well said.

2. Pick a space.

A break area can be created with as little as A) a 3X3 space on the edge of the room B) a soft pillow C) some painter’s tape and D) a small poster detailing “Take a Break” protocol. Of course, there are additional ways to adapt the break area to fit your context. And over time, teachers may want to add tools that help children self-regulate, calm and focus their brains. But creating a designated space is a huge first step!

3. Pre-teach break protocol.

It’s important that all students are clear on expected behaviors for taking a break, before the dysregulation occurs. In each classroom, it may look a little different. But teachers may consider a nonverbal signal, options for helping a student refocus and calm their brain (concrete options coming in the next post). Using a timer will help students and staff know that the break is not indefinite. It can signal time for a “check in”- a powerful trauma-informed technique. Finally, students coming from a break should know what it looks like to re-integrate back into the learning space. Other students should be encouraged to welcome the now-regulated learner back into the learning space, without judgement.

4. Tweek procedure as you go, and for specific students.

Like any other classroom procedure, this one will need explanation, modeling, and practice. We shouldn’t expect perfect utilization right away.  One student may spend too long there.  Another may try to visit the break area multiple times in a day or hour.  If we embrace this process as means to support individual students, at the moment of need, we will work through the kinks.  We will work with students to use the break area to augment and support their learning experience.  And we will realize the benefit of this added support in our classrooms.

5. Celebrate the changes you are making on behalf of students you love.

Remember that students using the classroom break area appropriately is a good thing.  Push away the voice that tells you these students are trying to avoid work or ‘game the system.’  Remember that adults self-regulate in various ways in order to persist through long meetings and conferences that have us sedentary.  We check out with a bathroom break or a quick under-the-table-cell phone scroll, just to get a our brains reset.  The reality is that kids may need a reset too.  Some need them more than others.  Here’s what we should celebrate:  When students are using the break area appropriately, we have a larger contingent of students ready to take on high levels of learning!

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

“Now they want us to put a tee pee up in the corner of our classroom?”
“What is education coming to?”
“It sure feels like we are giving children a reason to avoid work.”
“I sure wish I could walk away when the work got hard and get a little rest.”
“What’s to stop every student from using the break area?”
“We already take regularly scheduled movement breaks in my class.”
“There aren’t any break areas for adults, in real life!”

Learning hinges on student’s ability to self regulate.

Human brains are wired for survival. Unfortunately some of our kids are still hyper alert (as if a bear attack is imminent) in our classrooms. I wrote about this regularly occurring phenomenon in THIS POST. Sometimes student hypervigilence and dysregulation looks a lot like willful misbehavior in the classroom. But more often than we recognize, the preconditions for this behavior are occurring before, during and after the misbehavior. What we also know now, through research and years of anecdotal evidence in the classroom, is that stressed out brains cannot learn. Physiologically, they cannot reach the high levels of thinking that we are pushing for, while they are in this state of high arousal and dysregulation.

When we give students tools to regulate themselves, we are actually building independence and self-advocacy skills.

Nobody can push a button and get a dyregulated child back to baseline, though we wish we could. Adults can be with children and co-regulate in proximity (Babies swaddled by their mothers and fathers co-regulate by feeling the slower heart rate/ breathing, and then matching it). More practically in a classroom environment, educators can provide dedicated space, calming options, and relative proximity for a child to soothe and regulate themselves.
Break areas are simply another tool that we can provide our students, to help them SELF REGULATE. At the end of the day, individuals have to build healthy means of regulating themselves to thrive in our environment. Nobody

One small modification can make save time, resources, and heartache.

While making an addition to the classroom environment may feel like a big ask, it’s important to consider the resources that are currently being directed to reactively meet the in-the-moment needs of our most dysregulated students. At our site, we see teachers having to stop lessons and call for assistance. We see children, overwhelmed and dysregulated, walking out of classrooms under the control of their reptilian “dinosaur brain,” wired for survival. We are seeing adjunct staff pulled from critical functions to supervise, coax, and assess students on the run. What if a student, in this aroused state, had a brief area to recalibrate, regulate, and re-focus, in the classroom environment? What if they retreated to an area, did a few calming exercises, and returned to learning? Wouldn’t this be a win for everyone involved?

Being proactive beats being reactive.

By law, we must provide breaks for children, according to their learning needs, and accommodations listed in their IEPs. In fact, I’ve seen this explicitly listed in 100% of the Behavior Intervention Plans that have been developed in our district. What if break areas were already an option in our classrooms, for all students?
We can wait for directives via Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), with legal weight, to make shifts in this area. Or we can proactively create conditions and environments, including break areas, that are good for students. Now; Even in fifteen minutes.

What if every classroom on your campus had a break area for kids?
When Restorative Responses Sound Like Weakness

When Restorative Responses Sound Like Weakness

Certain misbehaviors trigger us more than others.
Lying. Stealing. Talking back.
When students act in this way, our posture stiffens, our tone sharpens, our glare , and our fears increase.
Our brains deduce that behavior, displayed in this manner, at this young age, surely leads to tragic outcomes in the future.

That’s what I wrestled with the moment I realized my newly adopted daughter took a hundred dollar bill from my drawer, on her first day of first grade.

Is this the beginning of her involvement in a crime ring?

That’s where the mind of a teacher naturally went when her student blatantly lied about his behavior on the playground.

What happens to adults who continually lie?

That’s what happened to a staff member who caught multiple children stealing at the yearly book fair.

Is this the beginning of a life of crime for these children?

Deep breaths.
Answer: No.

As leaders, educators and parents, we must continually resist the urge to play out our worst fears in response to misbehavior.
One of our primary jobs is to teach children through their behavior and misbehavior, while they are young enough to mold and shape.
Restorative responses call us to work with children to consider these important questions:
Who was wronged/ hurt?
How might I make things right?
Are there opportunities to repair the relational damage?

Our less informed and historic responses push us to think first about consequences that inflict the most appropriate pain, to act as a deterrent in future situations. And there is a role for consequences that are natural and costly for children who misbehave. But are we stopping short? Are we providing opportunity to right wrongs and repair relationships? These, I would argue, are some of the brave underpinnings required for complex, democratic, diverse communities like ours, to thrive.

Simple, yet excruciating, moves, such as asking for forgiveness, are some of the most valuable lessons students can learn.
Admitting a mistake and moving through it with grace, is a fundamental skill sorely needed in our world.
Connecting our actions to the impact they have on others is a critical concept our students need to succeed in the future.

On the heels of an offense, this process can seem slow and weak. Adults who expect quick judgement and consequences might get nervous.  They might wonder if students are “getting off easy” or getting away with it.  Leaders who flex protocols to include restorative responses may sense push back or critique.  Nevertheless, leaders like us need courage to press towards what is right, what is empirically effective, and what is aligned with student learning.

If we want to create restorative environments in our schools, then we must be brave enough to interrupt the habitual/ natural responses we make in the wake of student misbehavior.
We have to be centered enough to slow down and consider the long range development of our youth.
We have to resist the temptation to slap a quick, painful consequence on an shame-sensitive young child.
We have to be strong enough to sit in the lack of clarity, while all parties consider real impact.
And we have to be creative enough to come up with responses that come from a human need to be reconnected and made right with one another.

This is the restorative way.
And it might sound like weakness to some.

To me, it sounds like hope.

Image by Chapendra via Flickr.